Making education an issue for political gains


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 19 Jan 2003

On The Beat with Wong Chun Wai.

IT'S sheer hypocrisy but no one is surprised. According to news reports, PAS politicians enrol their children in government-owned schools but tell their supporters to send their children to privately-run Sekolah Agama Rakyat (SAR). 

These opposition leaders are probably not convinced of the teaching standards of these SAR. Yet these politicians persuade their members, especially those in the rural heartland, to send their kids to these poorly-run schools. 

Last week, it was revealed that two Kelantanese PAS-elected representatives moved their children from SAR to government schools. 

The MP for Rantau Panjang Abdul Fatah Harun applied for his son to study in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama Naim Libanat from Sekolah Menengah Ugama Maahad Muhammad (Boys). 

Limbungan assemblyman Zainuddin Awang Hamat moved his daughter to Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kamil from Sekolah Ugama Maahad Muhammad (Girls) a year ago. 

The late PAS president Datuk Fadzil Noor, vice-president Datuk Mustaffa Ali and information chief Azizan Abdul Razak reportedly sent their children to government-owned religious schools as well. 

Abdul Fatah admitted in a newspaper interview that he decided to transfer his son to a government-owned school to give him a better education but in a face-saving move he also said “it is to test the truth in the Education Ministry's assurance that all students from SAR would be accepted into its schools.” 

There are 66,000 students in secondary-level SAR and 8,000 at primary level in about 260 such schools nationwide. Parents have been given until Feb 6 to transfer them to government-run schools. 

The ministry, which carried out an analysis of the Penilaian Menengah Rendah 2002, found the performance of SAR students to be very poor. Only 3.5% of SAR students obtained Grade A in Mathematics compared with 21% in national schools. For Science, only 2.2% in SAR had Grade A against 15.4% in national schools. 

About 44% of SAR students obtained Grade E for English, which means they did not even reach a minimum competency level. Another study, carried out by Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Utara Malaysia, found that SAR students had difficulty getting jobs because their education was too focused on religious studies. 

The education of our children is too serious a matter to be used for political reasons. 

This is not confined to PAS. At the height of the controversy between the DAP and MCA over the relocation of SRK Damansara to Puay Chai II, one vocal oppositionist was found to have sent his children to another school. 

Despite his vociferous support for the Damansara school, he preferred to enrol his children elsewhere. Even when the matter was reported by the media, he continued asking the villagers to protest against the relocation while their children studied in a container instead of a proper classroom. But when the villagers found that their children could not sit for their examinations, opposition party activists quickly washed their hands of the entire episode. The MCA, which had been at the receiving end, had to solve the predicament of the children. 

It's the same with some Malay nationalists and Chinese educationists. Many prefer to converse in English with their children at home but portray themselves as champions of these languages to the public. It is well known that they, too, send their children overseas for a western education. Despite their rhetoric, Malaysia, Indonesia, China or Taiwan are certainly not on their list. 

In the next general election, Malaysians can be sure that issues like the SAR and the use of English to teach Science and Mathematics would be exploited to whip up communal sentiments. 

PAS campaigners have said clearly that they would complain about the government's decision not to fund SAR schools but hide the fact that many of their leaders prefer government-run schools. 

The Chinese educationists would harp on the use of English to teach these two subjects in Chinese-medium schools, by claiming that the MCA allegedly sold out the Chinese community. 

The Barisan formula to keep Chinese but have extra classes in English to teach these two subjects is still not good enough for this group, although the majority of parents with children in Chinese schools are happy with this win-win formula. 

The four Chinese-based Barisan parties, led by the MCA, had campaigned hard to keep this formula, even at the risk of upsetting fellow members but their reasoning was finally accepted by the Barisan supreme council. 

The new school year has already started and children are learning to cope. But come election time, education will be made an issue again. 

In the end, the politics of consensus and accommodation that has stood the test of time since the formation of Malaysia will get the endorsement of the majority of Malaysians.  

 

Wong Chun Wai can be reached at onthebeat@thestar.com.my  

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